Democrats Have the Right Idea of what COVID-19 Relief Should Look LikeRoundup
tags: World War II, politics, New Deal, GI Bill, coronavirus
Elizabeth Tandy Shermer is an assistant professor of history at Loyola University Chicago and author of "Sunbelt Capitalism: Phoenix and the Transformation of American Politics."
Democrats boldly held up the agreement on the $2 trillion economic relief bill that the Senate passed on Wednesday after several days of fighting and that the House is likely to pass on Friday. The Democratic effort aimed to prevent a bailout of big businesses and to ensure that all citizens received economic relief. But we must understand this bill — and indeed the likely future ones needed in the fight against covid-19 — as simply triage, stabilizing the situation before we actually fix the problems that have been plaguing the United States.
That’s the lesson from history. After Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt remained committed to implementing long-term reforms to reconstruct a nation devastated by the Great Depression and making the wartime mobilization as progressive as possible. “When victory comes,” he publicly reiterated two years later, that massive undertaking “has got to be carried on.”
But fierce opposition on Capitol Hill to plans for an expansive, comprehensive postwar New Deal led to political compromises and defeats that, in the long run, left the country unprepared to easily vanquish covid-19 and desperately in need of what Roosevelt dubbed “Doctor New Deal” to once again heal an ailing nation.
The National Youth Administration, for example, continued the popular work-study program to help much-needed nurses, doctors and engineers graduate and reoriented other programs toward vocational training to teach young adults the skills needed to rapidly produce guns, tanks and medical supplies.
Roosevelt also did not give up on creating a more equitable arsenal of democracy. He decreed that the bulk of war production would take place in the nation’s interior, far from Northeastern, Midwestern and West Coast factories. Roosevelt may have publicly made that 1940 demand in the name of defense, but he and his aides also intended that order to direct the manufacturing jobs that qualified for federal employment benefits into areas where the only opportunities were in the agricultural, domestic and public sectors that had been excluded from what New Dealers had managed to pass in the 1930s.